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Merced High soccer stuns Davis in Division I final for first title

Merced captain Manuel Garcia-Resendez (below) holds the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship banner as Merced celebrates its 1-0 victory over Yolo Davis on Saturday night in Folsom.
Merced captain Manuel Garcia-Resendez (below) holds the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship banner as Merced celebrates its 1-0 victory over Yolo Davis on Saturday night in Folsom. SUN-STAR PHOTOS BY LISA JAMES

FOLSOM -- The clock wasn't moving fast enough for Junior Estrada.

The Merced goalie couldn't keep himself from looking up at the scoreboard.

"The last 15 minutes were scary," Estrada said. "I'd look up at the clock and see 10 minutes...then nine.

"I just wanted it to go faster. Eventually, I just stopped watching and got back into the game."

The end couldn't come soon enough as Estrada and his teammates fought off a talented and determined gang from Yolo Davis in the closing minutes.

And then, finally...

At last the whistle blew to seal Merced's 1-0 victory Saturday night in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game.

Many of the Merced players dropped straight to their knees. Others jumped into the arms of nearby teammates.

Eventually, they all piled together at midfield.

For the first time in school history, a Merced soccer team was bringing home a section championship banner.

"I can't believe it," senior Eddie Cuevas said. "This is so awesome.

"It kind of sucks that this is my last game, but what a way to go out."

How big of an upset was it?

For starters, Merced (22-1-2) knocked off the defending section champs.

Merced also became just the fourth team from the southern half of the section to win a title.

Bart McAfee's boys also knocked off a Davis team which reached the finals by defeating the No. 1 team in the country -- Carmichael Jesuit.

"It might have been different if we played Jesuit," McAfee said. "We would have had to deal with the mystique of playing Jesuit.

"As soon as I saw Davis, yeah, they were taller than us. But our guys weren't intimidated."

Davis (20-3-2) wasn't just bigger than Merced.

The North champs towered over Merced at just about every position on the field.

That's one of the things that made the win so special -- Merced went toe-to-toe for 80 minutes with giants.

Estrada and his defensive partners Cuevas, Manuel Garcia-Resendez and Daniel Martinez turned in one of their best games of the season.

Estrada came up with nine saves, including some fantastic plays to keep his team in the game early.

"Junior was the man of the match," said Merced star Cristian Alvarez.

"He was blocking corner kicks. He made a great play on a free kick.

"He was the star."

Alvarez wasn't too bad, either.

The two teams played to a scoreless draw in the first half.

Then Alvarez showed why he's one of the elite players in the country.

Just four minutes into the second half, Alvarez took possession just past midfield.

He started left, then beat two defenders to the middle and lofted a 35-yard shot over Davis goalie Kevin Monell for the only goal of the game.

"I saw they left the middle open," Alvarez said. "I took all the space I could get and I saw their goalie come out a little.

"I hit a hard chip to get the ball over him. Thank God it went in.

"I don't even know what happened. At that moment, my mind just went blank."

Shortly after taking the lead, Merced went into protect mode -- packing everybody back on defense.

Davis attacked non-stop, but couldn't punch a shot past Estrada and the army of defenders surrounding him.

There were plenty of close calls, though.

Headers sailed slightly left, barely right and just over the crossbar.

A corner kick fell right to Davis' Tendai Mkandawire in front of the goal.

But Mkandawire's hurried shot missed just left of the post.

It was just one of those nights -- made even more remarkable òconsidering Merced didn't make a single substitution.

Meanwhile, Davis subbed five or six times in the first half alone.

McAfee went with his starters the whole way -- until Alvarez picked up a yellow card for delaying the game in the final minutes.

"It's called just sucking it up," McAfee said. "I just felt I couldn't sub.

"I didn't want to ruin the flow we had going. Besides, our guys have two months to rest now."

And a lifetime to remember this night.